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Posts Tagged ‘manipulation’

In recent years outcry has been growing against the biased mainstream media.  This generally encompasses newspapers, broadcast television, and cable news channels, who have been shown to favor a political candidate in their reporting over his opponent, or to spin coverage of wars and international relations.  We should not be surprised at how easy it is to sway an audience.  The tone of an article, inclusion or omission of certain facts, the way questions are asked to acquire facts, and even the use or frequency of positive or negative buzz words all contribute to manipulating an audience.  And we must admit that it is impossible to prevent bias from appearing in our media.  Some gross abuses may be avoidable; news coverage should not be fabricating stories, and ought to check that they have reliable sources.  What bothers most people is the apparent monopoly in the media by one side of American culture, namely, the more liberal side. 

 

This is not a new phenomenon.  During the Revolutionary War underground printing presses published pamphlets, propaganda for the masses who were otherwise uninformed about the masses of people discontented with British oppression.  Media has been used in such ways, then, for centuries.  100 years ago the newspaper moguls such large and influential cities as New York and Chicago, far from being true competitors, met in the legendary smoke-filled rooms to agree on policies to support, on news to cover, that would best protect their power and influence.  For my purposes today I cannot describe how these men gained their power.  Yet they had it, and motive to keep their power. 

 

But how could their power be threatened?  One threat that goes deeper than we may at first imagine is the possibility of real competition.  Suppose an enterprising young reporter had started his own printers, and published his own version of the news.  More than likely he would have started small.  Such a man could have made certain news available that was not to be found in any other papers.  And so he could gain an audience.  There is obvious economic pressure on the established media to maintain their audience.  The nature of free markets dictates that larger corporations can afford to have lower prices.  They have the advantage of an incumbent, brand recognition and loyalty already strong among their patrons.  With more reporters, they can cover more territory, and produce more writing.  And, of course, they have the ear of the people, and can tell them what they will about their opponent’s or the facts the other news sources report. 

 

This competitive atmosphere is a familiar fixture in the market.  And media giants have the advantage in every respect.  Why would they be worried?  Power.  The more this different voice gains the respect of the people, the more power is taken from the others.  The new voice creates few new readers, garnering the majority of its business by persuading the subscribers to the other papers to transfer their interest and attention.  There are only so many news consumers to go around.  And if readership falls below a certain level, the influence of that paper is strikingly less.  In a democratic society, the majority rules.  If one news source ceases to control the majority, they are in danger of losing everything. 

 

Risk goes beyond that simple math.  The more media is divided, and choice is required of the consumer, the less power is wielded by the media as a whole.  Think of a large room.  If one strong voice is projecting its speech in an otherwise silent room, the people will hear him.  They are more likely to believe him.  Many voices in chorus produce the same effect.  If the whole room erupts in conversation, not only will you scarcely be able to hear the person right next to you; you will not be able to hear the one large voice, either.  You will have to make a choice.  Who do you wish to hear?  The friend next to you, or the intelligent man across the aisle?  The woman discussing a topic of interest, or the man with the microphone?  Are you going to heed the voice on the stage or the voice by the door?  How do you know if these people are even telling the truth?  Suddenly no one has power to manipulate you, and once more you are an individual with private responsibility. 

 

Today we have just such a room full of voices.  The traditional media is losing large portions of its audience.  Technology has made it possible for thousands of people to broadcast their thoughts and information.  Newspapers proliferate.  Old radio companies moved into television and cable.  Conservative talk radio now has a strong following of people dissatisfied or bored with the traditional “mainstream” media.  News magazines are published weekly.  Millions have access to the internet, with free host services for blogs that can be searched and linked. 

 

Acquiring information on which to report is a much broader road today.  Rather than waiting for the communication carried by a single ship, months delayed, as was nearly the case during the Revolutionary War, we now have satellites and long distance telephones, cell phones, email, airmail, etc.  If I were to witness a robbery, a friend in another state could know of it in minutes.  Google and similar search engines have made it possible to search for the information you wish to share, eliminating part of the need to filter the competing voices on the overwhelmingly large and loud media stage. 

 

Many are taking advantage of this new world of information.  Some who have escaped the education system able to think for themselves have been creating these competing voices and sustaining them for decades until we reached this point.  They investigate sources and find them reliable or not.  Combining information offered by various outlets, an individual can draw his own conclusions and just as easily share them with others.  Nevertheless, the majority of people remain addicted to the single voice.  Unpracticed in discernment and logic, many people embark on an increasingly difficult course of clinging to the familiar one voice.  It won’t last long.  Market forces are at work.  A house divided against itself will fall. 

 

I’m not saying that radio will cease to exist, or that TV will go out of business, or even that the blog and web news fads will blow over.  The influence is what is crashing in on itself.  There is a possibility that it won’t.  More on that in a moment.  If it does, however, there seem to be two choices: either the people who don’t want to choose will wake up and think for themselves anyway, or a new power will come in and control them.  Humanity craves leadership.  It has found leadership without media in the past, and can persevere in its quest once again in a world where media is weak. 

 

Recall those newspaper editors in that room, drinking and smoking cigars.  They don’t want to lose their power.  They don’t want the media empire to fall.  These men know that strong competition, especially when faced on more than one front, reduces their power and eventually destroys it for all of them.  What do they do? 

 

The only chance of survival for the entrenched media is to fight back so hard that opposition is silenced.  In this global technological age, I’m not sure that is possible.  China is finding censorship a difficult problem to conquer.  News businesses may strong arm their competition out of existence through economic competition, or they could if the internet weren’t essentially free.  They can resort to sabotage, eliminating their foes with violence and vandalism and threats.  Some of these new voices might be enticed into joining the club, the chorus.  Or they can utilize their still-strong voices to change the laws.  Laws are changed by wealthy special-interest groups all the time, and markets are controlled by big business using little laws to regulate small business into insignificance.  So with media. 

 

Do not doubt it: the powerful in the media have already begun to work.  Using the government, members of which they helped to their election (and can slander out of power just as easily), they have begun to censor the freedom of speech. 

 

         Broadcast TV, beginning this January, will be a thing of the past in January.  Everything will be published in High Definition, and the government will take control of the airwaves for their own uses. 

         Cable and Satellite TV, though offering many stations, are ultimately controlled by a select few established companies. 

         In the 70’s and 80’s there was a law in effect endearingly called the “Fairness Doctrine,” requiring that radio stations offer all sides of an issue in their programming.  This is both impossible and economically suicidal, as there is not an equal audience for all opinions.  If reinstated, which the upcoming administration has considered, talk radio would be gone.  (It is the nature of laws that they are not always evenly enforced.  Though there may be a law against protesting on public property, the police and district attorneys decide who will be held accountable for violations.  Therefore though the “fairness doctrine” may apply to all radio stations or even other media, enforcement can be targeted at specific stations or genres.) 

 

I don’t know of any plans to censor the printed press or the internet, but watch for it.  You will either see increased censorship or the demise of media as a superpower. 

 

Doesn’t the Constitution guarantee free speech?  Of course!  But how is the government to be held accountable for trespass of the Constitution?  How will you even know they have done so if no one tells you?  Does the government own the airwaves?  Broadcast equipment?  Your TV or radio?  In principle, they don’t.  In practice, they absolutely do.  And if you’re like me, you’re starting to think you’ve heard of other countries where there was one national media, publishing at the will of the government.  Independent media entrepreneurs are not the only ones in history who have noticed that a single voice signifies singular power. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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On the problem of teaching children right from wrong – of teaching them wisdom – especially in the abstract circumstances:
 
I sit in my office listening to a mother interact with her young daughter over a Highlights magazine.  Seeing a picture of a child riding a vacuum, the girl recognizes, “That is no, no, no, no, no.”  The mother supports her child, “Yes, that’s silly.” 
 
So we see that the girl knows the word “no,” and that it indicates something which should not be done. 
 
The mother takes a psychological approach today, creating the association of silliness with things which might be dangerous or wrong. 
 
My problem with this is that youth – and at times even adults – are supposed to be silly.  They can make faces and jokes, stand on their heads, and draw pictures of fish in trees.  A court jester is silly for entertainment.  He is humble, too. 
 
In the old days a jester was also called a fool.  But here we meet the same difficulty.  Foolishness is rejection of God, emptiness, the opposite of wisdom and faith.  Fools we should never be if we can help it. 
 
Riding on a vacuum cleaner is more accurately described as foolish.  The consequences are not foreseen, authority and respect for property overlooked, and no justification given for the activity.  Is that what the mother wanted to teach her daughter? 
 
The danger in teaching children that wrong things are silly is that there are many things silly that are not wrong.  If you say it is silly to eat a peanut butter sandwich only from the left-hand side, or to sing a song of sixpence, then either the child will be terrified, considering all things unlike his parents to be wrong – or he will learn that wrong things are merely silly, and one day he will try them anyway, just to be funny or just to be curious.  “Silly” takes the seriousness out of disobedience. 
 
What do I recommend, then?  Usually when I have parenting ideas, they seem quite logical, natural, and easy to implement.  In this case I cannot think of an easy way to overcome this tendency.  Adults – especially worn out parents who have had little but two-year-old style conversation – are not creative or attentive enough generally to accurately describe why they disapprove of a certain course of action.  Thus they resort to the “silly” tactic, or “because I said so.” 
 
Now “because I said so” is a valid thing to teach.  Authority must be obeyed even when we do not understand the reason.  Unto parents is committed a more complex responsibility of bringing up a child to be able to make his own decisions when there is not authority to instruct.  So most of the time a parent should accompany an instruction with a reason, sharing their rationale. 
 
“Don’t take your pennies out of your pocket.  That isn’t careful.  If you lose them that would be irresponsible.” 
 
“Thank you for taking your own plate to the sink.  That was very responsible of you.” 
 
“Good job carrying the cup of water to Daddy.  You were careful it didn’t spill.” 
 
“You shouldn’t make fun of your brother or call him names.  That is unkind.” 
 
“Jesus said to be kind to one another.  Mommy is kind to you when she helps you tie your shoes.” 
 
“That was your sister’s toy.  Don’t steal it from her.  That is selfish.  Love your sister and share with her.” 
 
“Telling mom no is wrong.  God gave you a mom to take care of you, and He made her the boss.” 
 
Jane Austen’s grown-up characters responded well to the more descriptive rebukes.  Some were accompanied by explanations, and others were one-liners.  Mr. Knightley does not tell Emma “That was silly,” but the much more potent, “Badly done!”  Jane checks Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice by saying, “Lizzie, that was unkind!” 
 
How much better would we all respond if, rather than a culture that hints and manipulates (psychological influence, peer pressure, teasing, silent treatment, “that’s silly”), we had a culture where good friends and family could tell each other they were wrong?  And doesn’t the descriptive version reinforce values?  If I scolded to a little boy that he was being “ungentlemanly,” I am implying that there is such a thing as a gentleman and that it is a high calling.  On playgrounds children still value courage, by taunting each other with “coward” (or its loosely associated, “chicken”).  Jane valued kindness and knew that, in principle, her sister did, too.  Mr. Knightley appealed to Emma’s goodness. 
 
I might say, “That was dishonest,” or “That was imprudent,” “that was unwise,” unsound, inconsiderate, selfish, malicious, dangerous, destructive, unhealthy…
 
Any other suggestions, experiences being descriptively corrected, examples, arguments, etc?  Comment!
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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I just watched The Matrix for the first time last night. When I was in high school, I remember, a couple friends were crazy about The Matrix and would sit apart from the group talking about it. And my friends said that everyone had to see it at least a couple times to “get it.” The concept just blew their minds. Well now I’m twenty-three, which is a lot older than the friends I had in high school, but I can’t figure out what is so hard to get. Are there any questions I should be asking, but didn’t think of?

Over all, I guess I liked it. The story was well-thought. There were warring philosophies, which the movie choreographed into one cooperative plot. This philosophical war fit well with what God’s been teaching me of late: something about our plans and His plans. Also in reading The Immortal Game, I’ve been contemplating the ideas presented by chess: does fate govern your life, or are your choices supreme? Can you win by intellect, or is there something to be said for brute force? Is it every man for himself, or every man for the collective goal? Should life be lived tactically (moment to moment, choice by choice) or strategically (long term)? How well can any one person’s decisions manipulate another’s? These were the various positions and questions dealt with in The Matrix as well.

Of course trench coats, leather, and machine guns were rather glamorized. There was violence, and I didn’t watch some parts (not because anyone warned me or they were getting too gruesome, but I had been multi-tasking, and felt the long violence/chase series were missable). In fact, I asked my brother what the point of the long fight scenes was, as everyone knew what would be the outcome (of some parts). He told me that the movie makers got their awards and notoriety for the filmography of the sequences and the special effects. I still protest that they did not add to the movie.

Anyway, at one point I was also curious whether anyone spoke regular English, or if all the humans used bad language to express themselves. So I’m not really endorsing The Matrix, but it didn’t bother me enough to make me dislike the movie.

If I were to identify the central theme of the movie, after this first viewing, I would eschew the philosophical questions and say it was about the power of the mind over the body (and delving back deeply into philosophy, over destiny).

One thing I noticed: it didn’t end. The sequel is probably at the library right now waiting for me to watch it, and I might have to get the last one on hold. Do the next two get better or worse?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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What is a strong-willed person? 

Some people are born strong-willed.  Others work into it.  We might think of them as leaders, independent-minded, strong-willed, or stubborn.  They do not go with the flow.  Usually we recognize them in rebellion. 

 

Let me draw a comparison.  The majority of people are driven by emotion and beliefs.  It has been said that facts are far less powerful than what people believe.  These people feel that the most important thing is being sincere.  Inconsistency means nothing.  Life is lived as though relative.  If they felt it at the time, they did it.  They can be impulsive.  I don’t mean they seem impulsive, but that they really are.  (Wisdom can appear impulsive; if someone has an alert comprehension of a situation and an inherent sense of right and wrong, he will confidently choose very quickly and act on that decision.)  If a person is always true to himself, he is able to be manipulated.  His decisions are thus the floating, sleepy subjective of “follow your heart” – almost animal. 

 

However, a different kind of person is always trying to match himself to an outside ideal, whether pragmatic or spiritual (at the altar of self, of parents, of a romantic interest, a hero, a political ideal, or of God). Sincerity is important; only he wants to sincerely be his ideal, and believes reformation of actions will cause the change.  He still has that impressionable emotional side, but is not capable of being manipulated.  His decisions are on facts, rules, and objective evidence.  Standards are set by what he worships. 

All humans are born not worshiping God.  Self might be worshiped, in which case decisions are whatever self wants to do.  Self will be glorified.  Pain and bribery are nothing if the condition is not what the self wills.  Particularly if subjecting to them would profane independence, the terms are not embraced.  Or the idol might be another person, or a book, or TV show. 

 

There are people who begin as the first type of person and are trained or converted into something else.  Subjective manipulation can birth idolatry of a particular thing, rendering the person anchored, and not blown about with emotion any more. 

 

Conversion can happen for a strong-willed person from one idol to another, but it is not a matter of manipulation.  This is caused by more information about the idols.  No amount of pressure effects a change of mind.  I venture to guess that these people are not easily lied-to, either.  They tend to have a comprehensive view of reality that discerns truth. 

 

So eventually a strong-willed person will discover the truth or die in the process.  Discovering the truth and accepting it are not the same thing.  Many strong-willed people live in determined rebellion against God.  They believe in Him, know what His purpose is, and are not pleased.  They have chosen to worship self, and will not be supplanted.  Like the demons, they believe the truth, shudder, but hate the truth all the same.  In fact it is impossible to fully hate what is unknown. 

 

God can convict even an independent person of their sin, and humble them.  He can also establish formerly unstable, wind-of-the-moment-driven people as His worshipers.  I don’t claim to know how He does it.  I do believe that only He can.  When a person is saved, his spirit is made alive, rendering the sinful nature dead with Jesus on the cross.  Then the will has the power, by dependence on the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ life through them, to choose righteousness.  A strong-willed person recognizes that worship is absolute.  When his worship is given to God, his choices are made to God’s standard. 

 

What he worships, he values supremely in a way that the first kind of person cannot understand.  A strong-willed person understands commitment, is a zealous person, and expects fidelity from others.  He sees priorities as life-statements, reflecting not only the preference of the minute, but the direction of the years.  Yet he understands repentance, because it is a complete turnaround, a replacement of allegiance.  Repentance is not simply the recognition that a particular action is no longer popular or pleasant. 

 

A strong-willed person is not emotionless.  He feels just as deeply, and must reckon with the emotions.  But he cannot let them control him if they contradict his convictions.  This can be simpler, but not easier.  Some strong-willed people, when faced with intense emotional situations, feel torn in two. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

PS: Remember.  These are confessions of a strong-willed person.  My conclusions might be a little biased.  The object remains to aid communication between stronger and lesser wills.  Let me know what you think. 

 

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